The MLB NL East is so parity-laden that first place to the last place is separated by nine games. Suffice it to say, if any of these teams want to make the playoffs, they’ll need to win the division because they’re certainly not getting one of the Wild Cards.
Let’s look at another flawed weekend.
NEW YORK METS
The Mets salvaged a split of a four-game series with the Phillies. Realistically, they could have – and probably should have – gotten swept. Still, this has been the Mets’ story the entire season as they have overcome adversity and devastating injuries to climb into first place and stay four games ahead of the second-place Nationals. They travel to Washington for a makeup game Monday night. After the game in Washington, they travel to Atlanta for three games and then back “home” for three games at Yankee Stadium.
Even with the return of Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto, as a team, they’re still not hitting and they’re certainly not scoring. Brandon Nimmo is expected back Tuesday. J.D Davis will start a rehab assignment Wednesday.
Pete Alonso is confident that they’ll start hitting. Given the schedule this week, they’d better.
"I don't think there's any panic or rush or anxiousness at all." Pete Alonso says the Mets' offense is about to click: pic.twitter.com/VkQLcqwxFA — Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) June 27, 2021
The Nationals had a chance to gain on the Mets had they done better than a split of four games with the last-place Marlins. Trea Turner has been excellent all season, Kyle Schwarber is still scorching and Josh Bell is heating up.
Josh Bell is hitting .298 since May 13. He has 8 HR and 24 RBIs in 37 games (31 starts) over that stretch.@JBell_19 // #NATITUDE pic.twitter.com/MrDHpdz8Hx — Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 27, 2021
They may regret not getting at least three from the Marlins as their schedule is hellish for the next month. This week, they’re at home for the makeup game with the Mets, two games with the Rays, then four with the Dodgers.
Erick Fedde was slated to start against the Mets but was placed on the injured list with an oblique issue. Their starter is to be determined. Stephen Strasburg threw off a mound Sunday as he recovers from a neck injury and he will be needed. Shortness in the rotation will be an issue in the coming weeks.
The Braves also could have gained on the Mets had they done more than split with the Reds.
Fortunately for the Braves, Ronald Acuna Jr. returned to the lineup after missing two games with lower back soreness. In Sunday’s 4-0 win, he homered and doubled to support rookie Kyle Muller. Muller pitched five scoreless innings.
.@ronaldacunajr24's 117.4 MPH HR is the hardest-hit batted ball ever tracked by Statcast for a @Braves player! pic.twitter.com/R6U2TRLXJ7 — MLB Stats (@MLBStats) June 27, 2021
The Braves have a three-game series with the Mets in Atlanta this week. They moved Charlie Morton back so he could open the series. With each passing day and the overwhelming likelihood that they’ve seen the last of Marcell Ozuna for the rest of the season, it becomes increasingly obvious that they’re going to need an outfield bat if they intend to make a run.
If the Phillies had a halfway decent bullpen, they could have swept the Mets. Then again, if they had a halfway decent bullpen, they’d likely be in first place themselves. Instead, they’re three games under .500 and five games out of first place. Given the litany of problems they’ve had and will presumably continue to have in their current circumstances, they’re lucky to be that close.
Manager Joe Girardi has made some head-scratching maneuvers like letting Saturday’s starter Zack Eflin bat (understandably to bunt) with a 1-0 lead, allow him to walk out to the mound and, when McNeil was announced as a pinch hitter, then take him out for Ranger Suarez. Suarez struck out McNeil, then surrendered a game-tying home run to Kevin Pillar. They lost on a walk-off.
Even with all the problems they’ve had, the fundamental issue is fundamentals itself.
They’re not good at baseball. “Top” prospect Alec Bohm can’t catch a pop-up and Rhys Hoskins plays first base like he’s wearing boxing gloves. These are two of a host of other examples of poor execution. This is unlikely to get better in the near term and members of the Phillies TV media have had enough.
"These guys are disgraces to their position."@MBarkannNBCS pulled no punches on another Phillies collapse: pic.twitter.com/8LeuJOHIDh — NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) June 26, 2021
They have a makeup game Monday in Cincinnati against the Reds, then return home for three with the Marlins.
The Marlins split four with the Nationals. They are 11 games below .500 and nine games out of first place. It’s repetitive to continually say – twice a week – how they need to assess for the future, decide who stays and who goes and what the path forward should be. Manager Don Mattingly is uninterested in moral victories and held a team meeting earlier in the weekend to emphasize that there are expectations and the team is better than it has played.
A passionate Marlins Manager Don Mattingly pregame saying he is convinced the club is better than they've shown. Says he has been around the game long enough to know. Said yesterday he told the team we are not just going to accept losing. Sounds like this was a serious meeting. — Craig Mish (@CraigMish) June 26, 2021
This reignites the question as to what Mattingly’s future is with the club.
Derek Jeter inherited him and despite their Yankees lineage, Jeter has shown that he’s willing to make tough decisions to, in his view, better the franchise. Kim Ng also has Yankees ties and her time there and when she was with the Dodgers overlapped with Mattingly’s in both places. There are, however, questions.
Mattingly and New York
Mattingly’s contract was surprisingly extended at the tail end of the 2019 season when it was set to expire and Jeter was widely expected to hire someone of his own choosing and who would work cheaper. Mattingly did take a pay cut for the extension. That contract expires at the end of this season, but there is an option for 2022. There is also the presence of highly regarded coach James Rowson who has been called the heir apparent or, as others have said, “manager in waiting.”
Mattingly deserves better, but it would be understandable if Jeter and Ng wanted to make a change. The Yankees could absolutely use Mattingly’s no-nonsense approach and he now has the one thing that he lacked when he was up for the job to replace Joe Torre in New York: experience.
It’s difficult to envision GM Brian Cashman (if he keeps his job) wanting to replace Aaron Boone at all, let alone replace him with an organizational icon with a vast independent streak, but if the Yankees keep playing as they are, he might not have a choice.
This week, the Marlins have a road trip through Philadelphia and Atlanta for three games each.
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